[28 July 2009]
PopMatters Associate Multimedia Editor
We all know what you’re wondering about these two games. Which is better at making that number on the scale go down? Out of the three articles I’ve read comparing the differences between Wii Fit and EA Active, the weirdest idea they’ve seized on is the PR meme that EA Active is a ‘Western’ game. To paraphrase, thanks to its sweat inducing exercises it can satisfy our cultural expectations for exercise far better than the stretches and few exercises of Wii Fit. An easier distinction is a mechanical one between the two games: the Wii Fit knows its limits. I’ve played both games (my unflattering Wii Fit review) and despite the extra sweat EA Active gives me, it’s still inferior to the Wii Fit. Obviously a lot of this boils down to my personal opinion, to give a “Western” review neither has made me lose weight, but mechanically EA Active just reaches beyond what the motion controls can really do.
From EA Active
Let’s start with the basic comparison. EA Active generates the majority of its calorie burn by running in place mixed with physical motions that provide a mild workout. By and far the largest edge EA Active has over Wii Fit is the pre-arranged workout program so that you’re not always clicking around different exercises. It’s also cheaper and refrains from calling you fat any time you weigh yourself. Its biggest problem is that it relies almost exclusively on the motion controls for all its exercises and it’s very, very picky about how you use them. This is due to a technical limitation of the Wiimote: it cannot detect where the device is located in relation to its previous location, just its current position. Angling the device, shaking it, or aiming at the screen can all be picked up but just raising it up and down or left to right won’t be sensed. The consequence is that you have to very precisely angle the remote for each step in a workout. A shoulder raise means starting with the Wiimote pointed down. Raise arm and angle to show that you’ve moved, then point the Wiimote upwards once you’re fully extended.
From EA Active
This becomes a problem for two reasons. First, in order to create some kind of resistance to all this moving the game comes with a band that you have to keep looped into your hands for certain exercises. Holding a Wiimote while carefully angling it AND keeping the band in your hand is less than ideal. Often the game won’t sense a motion and will patiently wait for you to do something that you’ve already physically done before making you do the entire exercise all over again. You end up pointing the Wiimote around while struggling to keep your grip on the giant rubber band you’re standing on. If you’re like me, you’ll also get disappointed very quickly with how weak (and easily broken) the rubberband that the games come with is in terms of traction. Upgrading to a stronger and more resistant band is not something I’d recommend though. While fidgeting with my Wiimote position my grip slipped on the stronger band and it knocked the living s*** out of me.
In contrast, the Wii Fit is a lot of stretching and mostly inadequate strength exercises mixed with ineffective organization. Unlike EA Active which tries to not rely on the Balance Board, Wii Fit uses it extensively. The game is able to quasi-follow player motion with the balance sensor so that your position is, if not perfect, at least in the right ballpark. And that’s about it. The thing that Nintendo grasps about their console and peripherals is not making them uncomfortable to use. Yoga stretches work well and several of the strength exercises are good. Of particular merit are the push-ups and ab exercises, which EA Active completely lacks. Although it’ understandable that EA Active doesn’t have yoga poses, not having any stretches whatsoever is irresponsible. If using one of these things is the only exercise a person has gotten in years, they are going to need to learn proper stretching. The problem with Wii Fit is that you can’t effectively link any of this stuff together. My Wii Fit workout consists of clicking on each Yoga and strength exercise once until I hit the thirty minute score. Compared to EA Active, which repeats each workout and ups the reps, Wii Fit is wildly ineffective.
There is also the question of the BMI system. Wii Fit will weigh you and inflate your Mii to match your body. This is a bit depressing and it gets worse as the weeks go by and you realize that losing weight is not as easy as it seems. Every week that little white board will ask you why you haven’t lost weight and you’re forced to remember the food, the beer, the skipping exercises, and all that sitting around as well. EA Active completely removes this feature and instead just tells you how awesome you are all the time. The fact that my avatar in EA Active is a fit looking guy no matter what further removes any actual reflection of how healthy I am. Say what you want about insulting video games, but at least the Wii Fit is being honest with you and helping to raise awareness about your health in the long term.
From Wii Fit
Neither game particularly gets their fitness trainers right. Wii Fit makes you interact with a squeaking white board while EA Active mixes real-life videos with avatars. Although the Wii Fit girl is actually really pleasant to hear and work with, the game insists the male instructor randomly take over workouts. This could be a personal thing, but I find the male instructor in Wii Fit to be creepy in a “Let me watch you work out” kind of way. EA Active is odd in that you spend most of the exercise routine staring at your avatar instead of the instructor. Instead of the balance board’s dots and meters to show you where the game thinks you’re positioned, your avatar acts as the feedback. The problem is that this isn’t particularly precise. I can see exactly how off I am with the bars and graphs of the Wii Fit, but the avatar in EA Active just reflects that I’m not doing it right without showing me why.
In the end, the problem with either game’s workout is the same. No weight means no proper resistance which leaves you with stretching or moving in place. Realizing this, Nintendo made Wii Fit into a Yoga game with a few decent strength exercises that comfortably stays within the boundaries of the technology. EA Active instead tries to use a rubber band that can work around the Wiimote to solve the resistance problem with mixed results. You can’t really get a good resistance with the band going because of all the crap you’re holding, so most of the exercises are little better than lifting your arms up and down anyways. The ones that make you sweat mostly consist of running or jumping in place, which almost always ends with you wondering why you don’t just go outside. What EA Active fixes about Wii Fit, the ability to combine exercises so you actually get a decent workout, will supposedly be solved by Wii Fit Plus. If someone wanted to beat out either game, they’d need to a release a Wiimote with attachable weights to get a real advantage.